I was motivated after Sunday’s sermon on Worship to write my own Psalm. As a writer, I enjoy a writing challenge, so I thought, “How hard can it be?” First though, I wanted to do a bit of a word and topic study on what a psalm is before I took on the writing task of creating my own.
A psalm is defined as a song or hymn used for worship. “Psalm” is derived from the Greek translation, ψαλμοί (psalmoi), meaning “instrumental music” and, by extension, “the words accompanying the music”. That means that it is not merely a poetic challenge, but must have the element of being able to be put to music, and then sung or recited in a worship setting.
There are several types of psalms: Hymns, that are generally praising God for Who He is and for His Creation. Laments, either communal or individual, that describe suffering of some sort and beseeching the Almighty to intervene on the group or individual’s behalf to remove the cause of suffering. Thanksgiving psalms, thank God for His provision, His intervention during times of struggle, His Divinity, His Sovereignty etc. etc. There are other types of psalms, some that defy specific classification in Scripture, but for my purposes of writing my own psalm, I focused my attention on those mentioned.
I have read through the Book of Psalms numerous times, am familiar with many, even memorized a few. Popular Christian musicians have often put a Psalm to music taking creative license with the words to fit the melody like Chris Tomlin’s “Psalm 100” or Brian Doerksen’s “I Lift My Eyes Up (Psalm 121). One of my personal favourites is Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant’s collaboration on Psalm 119:105 “Thy Word”. I applaud the talents of those who can create worship music for us today based on the psalms!
A psalm inspires worship. It inspires reverence for God. It is meant to be an act of worship, just in the writing of it. This writing challenge was going to be more difficult than I thought and I felt extremely inadequate for the task. Doing a bit more research on psalm writing I discovered that Old Testament poetry doesn’t use rhyme and meter but does use synonymous, antithetical, and synthetic parallelism. As an English major, I was excited to learn more. https://www.britannica.com/topic/biblical-literature/Psalms#ref1096330
“Synonymous parallelism involves the repetition in the second part of what has already been expressed in the first, while simply varying the words.” For example: Psalm 38:1 “Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.”
“In antithetic parallelism the second part presents the same idea as the first by way of contrast or negation.” For example: Psalm 1:6 “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.”
“Synthetic parallelism involves the completion or expansion of the idea of the first part in the second part.” For example: Psalm 42:1 “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” Synthetic parallelism also allows for many variations, one of which is “staircase” parallelism and consists of a series of parts or lines that build up to a conclusion. For example: Psalm 29:1-2 “Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.”
I now had the poetic structure needed to “build” my psalm but I still needed the content. The single, most important aspect of writing a psalm is it must be experiential. Most of the Psalms in scripture are written from a personal perspective experiencing God through His Creation, through joyous times or times of hardship. The writers are honest, at times raw with emotion. Psalm 130:1-2 “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” or Psalm 40:1-2 “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”
I had to decide if I would write a lament or a psalm of praise. I decided the content needed to reflect the season of life I am living right now and that would determine my psalm choice.
So I began to write…
This may take awhile.